There are few pitchers in Major League Baseball who are identified by hot streaks more than Josh Beckett.
You had the post-season run of 2003, and then another bout of domination in the '07 playoffs. And throughout his nine regular seasons as a big-leaguer, Beckett has had his fair share of stretches drenched in excellence.
But this one is starting to distinguish itself.
Since May 5, the Red Sox starter has simply been one of, if not the, best pitchers in the majors. Over that span, he has five wins, and a 1.70 ERA, with opponents hitting a miniscule .181 off of him.
But even with the numbers built up from the current stretch -- which includes an 0.76 ERA in his last five appearances -- it was Tuesday night, in a 7-0 victory over the Yankees (recap here), that might have separated this Beckett from previously dominant versions of Beckett. When you allow one hit and no runs over six innings to the best hitting team in the bigs, that is pretty good punctuation.
These were the Yankees, and that always warrants extra points.
Beckett has now pitched 15 games against the Yankees as a member of the Red Sox and not until his latest meeting had he ever walked off the mound not having allowed a run. Twice the hurler gave up a single run to New York, but never the doughnut.
The evidence of excellence could be found everywhere as the lights went out at Fenway Park.
Beckett's performance was just the fourth time a Red Sox pitcher had held the Yankees to one hit or less over six or more scoreless innings since 1954, with Greg Harris the last to accomplish it, back on June 7, 1990. The others in the club: Ray Culp (Sept. 21, 1968) and Billy Rohr (April 14, 1967).
It was the third straight start in which Beckett has allowed one earned run or less on three hits or fewer, tying Pedro Martinez (July 25-Aug. 4, 2002) for the longest such streak by a Red Sox pitcher since '54.
Once again -- this might just be the run of runs for the pitcher who has made his reputation on such things.
HOW BECKETT IS DOING IT
After the game, it was as if Red Sox manager Terry Francona was getting paid for every time he specifically said, or referenced, the term, "two-seamer." For example...
"I thought [Beckett] was terrific," the manager said. "Early in the game he used all his pitches and we score and then that allowed him to find his two-seamer. Early on, that one to the front door of lefties wasn't there real consistently, but he used all his pitches and didn't let them sit on anything and he stayed out of the middle. And then as we got into about the third or fourth inning, he found that two-seamer and really did a good job."
About that two-seamer...
It was with good reason that Francona mentioned the pitch with such regularity. During the pitcher's current streak it has been the two-seam fastball, with its late action into right-handers and away from lefties, that has proved most dominant for Beckett.
But, this time out, the difference-makers against the team with the most runs in the majors were two other offerings that carried the load until that two-seamer could be rediscovered. In the first inning, against the heart of the New York lineup, Beckett broke off nine curveballs of his 18 pitches. (Six of the nine were to Mark Teixeira, before the first baseman drew a walk.)
By the time Beckett had gotten through four innings, he had thrown the curve on 23 of his 71 pitches, ultimately leaving lasting images of terrible-looking swings on the pitch from both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
When it was all said and done, 41 of his 93 pitches weren't the bread-and-butter, mid-90's heater.
"We had a game-plan and we were going to stick to it," he said, "and I'm pretty stubborn when I get going, so it ended up working out."
SO WHY DID HE COME OUT?
The 93 pitches marked just the second time all season Beckett hasn't gone 100 or more. So what was the impetus for Manny Delcarmen coming on for the seventh?
While the Red Sox starter was plenty strong leaving the sixth, Francona knew the numbers, and with his team running away and hiding with a six-run lead he was going to pay great mind to them.
With a soaked Fenway crowd getting wrapped up in the one-hit wonderment that Beckett delivered, Francona understood that throughout Beckett's previous six games he had averaged more pitches per game (115.5) than any pitcher in baseball. Beckett has now thrown the seventh-most pitches of any pitcher in the game (1,316).
"We leaned on him a little hard last time, I think he was at 119, and he doesn't have an extra day this time. That's the hard thing," Francona explained. "When a guy comes off the field, you don't ever want to get in the way of his pitching, but [pitching coach] John Farrell and I thought that might be about it. We talked to him real quick and I think he felt like it was the best thing too."
After the game, the pitcher reiterated the stance.
"I've been throwing a lot of pitches, doing some normal stuff, and I think they kind of wanted, after we got a big lead to slow me down a little bit," Beckett said.
PEDROIA HAS A KNACK FOR THE DRAMATIC
It didn't come with the drama that his last outing allowed for, when Beckett hadn't given up a hit until there were two outs in the seventh inning. But going hitless all the way to a pair of outs in the fourth isn't bad, either.
And Dustin Pedroia did everything he could to extend the excitement, a feat he seems to excel at each and every time such scenarios pop up.
With two outs in the fourth, Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano hit a hard grounder into the hole between first and second. Pedroia ranged into shallow right field, dove, gathered in the rapidly accelerating ball, got up, and looked like he was poised to keep the no-hitter alive. He had, after all, done it before, preserving Clay Buchholz' no-no with one of the best plays of the '07 season.
But the wetness that surrounded the area in which Pedroia fielded the ball proved too much, as the fielder lost the handle when making the transfer from glove to throwing hand.
"I'm chalking that one up to our grounds-crew guy dumping the tarp right behind second base," Pedroia said. "I couldn't really get a grip on the ball. Everything was wet. I got to it and slid about eight feet. That didn't really help me out. That was pretty much it."
SO DOES THE ROOKIE
Daniel Bard picked an interesting time to bust out his first two 100 mph major league pitches.
The Sox rookie reliever came on for the ninth and threw two heaters that reached the century mark on the Fenway Park radar gun readings. It was the first time a Red Sox pitcher had hit 100 against the Yankees since Jonathan Papelbon measured out at 101 mph in 2006. Bard caught a glimpse of his triple-digit reading on the scoreboard in left-center.
"I reared back on that one," said Bard of the initial 100 mph offering, a fastball to Cano. "It was pretty much all I've got, so I kind of wanted to see where I was at."
AND THEN THERE WAS THE OFFENSE
From the New Yorkers' perspective, this Sox win was about the failure of Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, he of the five-year, $82.5 million contract and what is now a 4.89 ERA. The starter lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on five hits with five walks, throwing 84 pitches (43 in the second inning alone).
For the Red Sox, however, it didn't matter who was on the mound. The sights and sounds that came with their offense were all that counted.
First and foremost among the Red Sox' bats was that of David Ortiz, who not only managed his third home run of the season -- kicking off the scoring with a two-run homer into the center field bleachers in the second -- but did so on a 95 mph fastball from Burnett.
It was a far cry from a few weeks before when Ortiz literally faced a weekend-full of fastballs from the Mets and could barely get bat on ball. The moment wasn't lost on either the player or the crowd, with the DH celebrating his third homer of the season with his third curtain call.
"Well, it gave us two runs, which is good. And anytime somebody does something good you're going to see more energy," Francona said. "There's no getting around how important this is. I think everybody's acknowledged that, myself included. When he does something like that, he's an important guy to our lineup. To what we're trying to get done, when he swings the bat like that, I think we feel better about ourselves."
Then there was the other much-talked about member of the Sox' starting lineup, shortstop Nick Green, who is doing his darnedest in taking the "utility" out of "utility man".
On a day when Jed Lowrie took another step toward joining the big league club with his fourth live batting practice (it looks as though the shortstop might be making a rehab appearance in around a week), Green showed his value once again. The 30-year-old first notched an RBI double into the left-field corner in the third, and then launched a definitive homer over everything down the left-field line to close out the scoring.
In case you're keeping track, Green now has the fifth-most doubles (12) and ninth-best slugging percentage (.426) among major league shortstops.
AND THEN THERE IS THAT STREAK
The Red Sox have played the Yankees six times this season, and the Red Sox have beaten the Yankees six times this season.
Before the dismissals start rolling in from those pointing to fact that it isn't even July, understand the historical significance of the feat. It is the Sox' second-longest win streak ever against the Yankees to begin a season, only trailing a 14-game stretch from April 11-July 1, 1912.
And as for this latest triumph, the two hits allowed were the fewest the Red Sox had allowed the Yankees since Martinez' one-hitter at Yankee Stadium, Sept. 10, 1999, and the lowest number of hits allowed to the Yanks at Fenway Park since June 7, 1990.
"You don't want to be 0-6 against your rival and the team that you're fighting for first-place," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "You can look at the small picture and say we're 0-6, you can look at the big picture and say we're tied for first. We could be in a lot worse situation being 0-6 to these guys. That's the bottom line. I don't like losing and our guys don't like losing, but we have to look at the big picture and we're even after 57 games and here we go."